Dunni Abisayo

By the time I am down for breakfast most mornings, Daddy is half-done with his feed. Often I can hear him sucking on Mummy’s breasts from the top of the stairs, the sound of wet lips twisting at damp flesh, broken up by his occasional gasps and burps.

That image of Daddy in Mummy’s arms at the dining table, tit in mouth, is always something to me. Daddy, so tall and towering at six foot four becomes a little baby boy in Mummy’s arms. I like how Mummy’s small body proves to be so strong, how Daddy is curled up in her lap, all the weight of him pressing down on her chest and thighs, and yet Mummy looks so calm, stroking Daddy’s face, muttering affirmations to him under her breath as he prepares for another day in the office with his white colleagues.

Sometimes Daddy has an important presentation or meeting and he needs to practice his lines with Mummy. So in between the feeding he will unlatch his lips from her breasts and go over what he plans to say, milk still dribbling down his mouth which Mummy is always quick to wipe away. She never seems to mind the milk leaking down her breast onto her shirt, so focused on helping Daddy, giving him feedback on his delivery.

“Make sure you push your shoulders back, my love. And speak nice and slow. Make eye contact. And smile. Remember to smile. Last time they said...”

When Daddy’s belly starts to tighten against his belt and his sucking becomes slow and tired like that of a baby who is well past full and now just enjoying the feel of familiar flesh in his mouth, Mummy rubs Daddy’s back for a few seconds and then sends him on his way with a wet kiss I know they do just to provoke an “ewww” from me. Daddy gets down and stands for a moment, his feet spread apart as he stretches wide, letting out a satisfied sigh. Then he picks up his briefcase, pats me on the head goodbye and whistles his way out of the house, into the car, on his way to the Office of Doom.

I love the half hour I have with Mummy before Big Sister finally drags herself downstairs. The way the sun shines through the kitchen window and hits her dewy brown skin, golden light drawing lines across her face and her chest which is still bare and open, waiting for me. I look at Mummy from across the kitchen and tell myself that one day I will be just like her. As I climb into her lap and take my feed, she smooths my eyebrows and baby hairs, asks me whether I have done all my homework and reading. Looking up at her, I can see Mummy's nostrils which are big and dark. Sometimes I reach out to rub her round button nose, loving the smooth feel under my fingertips. She closes her eyes as I do that, laughing under her breath, revealing the whites of her teeth. In those moments, I am so certain love can kill, that it can rip through my little girl body and make me burst into flames because it hurts to have so much of it. Almost always, even maybe twice in a morning, I unlatch to say to Mummy, “I love you.” And these words are never enough and I always feel that, especially as she says them back to me, her dark eyes so focused and clear. My words are not enough because that is all I have to give her, while for Mummy those words are just the beginning, just a smidge in comparison to the rest of what she gives us: her body and her milk and her whole entire life.

Then Big Sister slugs down the stairs, having overslept like usual and she pushes me away, taking her turn to feed before we go off to school.

For dinner, we all sit around the table and take our turns on Mummy’s breast. Of course Daddy is served first.

On the weekends in the evenings, we sit around the TV for a few hours and watch talent shows that have gotten cringier over the years. Or romantic comedies that are predictable but still make Mummy and Daddy exclaim in disapproval when one of the characters betrays the other. The man and woman always reconcile in the end, and when they do and kiss passionately before falling into bed, Mummy rolls her eyes, turning her face from the screen and saying under her breath with a hidden smile, “That’s all they know how to do.” Big Sister and I always smile at that.

Often these evenings are interrupted by the doorbell and it is nearly always another Aunty and Uncle who have come for help saving their marriage. Mummy and Daddy take them into the formal living room with the fancy cream furniture that is only ever used when we have guests.

When Big Sister and I go in with a tray of chin chin, water and SuperMalt, we overhear just a little of the turmoil brewing, before the adults spot us and quieten down.

Oftentimes, the aunty is teary eyed, looking to the ground, muttering a “thank you” as we pour their drinks into glasses. The uncle is likely to smile at us wide and make jokes about how big we’ve grown and how soon we will be married with kids and husbands of our own. But even with the jokes we see the exhaustion in his eyes which makes it exhausting for us to open our mouths and laugh too.

After we’ve poured their bottles of water into a glass, we are dismissed. But sometimes I hang around just outside the door and eavesdrop with Big Sister.

The story is always the same. Or variations of the same. Aunty wants Uncle to be home more. Uncle is doing the best he can to provide and is not sure what else he has to give.

Sometimes, there is another woman. Often, there is another woman.

As I listen outside the door, hearing the apologies come from both sides, a smugness deposits itself inside of me. An overwhelming sense of pride that Mummy and Daddy are the ones who these Aunties and Uncles come to for advice. That they are a living example of how to love. And not the fluffy superficial love we see in romcoms. No. Real Love. The everlasting, loyal kind.

Most of the time, during these couple therapy sessions, Daddy does most of the talking. He always sounds like a pastor to me, so confident and sure, never doubting the power of his Word to deliver the couple from their brokenness. And Daddy’s boyish arrogance makes him charming in a way, allowing him to get away with a few inappropriate jokes. Like motioning to Aunty, drawing the curves of her body with his hands as he says to Uncle with teasing eyes, “Isn’t she aging like fine wine? You’re a lucky man o!” This always makes Aunty giggle, and then her husband joins in and then they are laughing together, seeming to forget, if just for a second, all the vile things they said about each other just moments before.

And Mummy does a lot of the appeasing, helping the couple find neutral ground, adding in a few one liners that are somehow always packed with wisdom. Lines like, “Never forget that the two of you are on the same team” or “This is the person you chose for life. Remember why you made that choice.” Sometimes when Aunty and Uncle are like cat and mouse, refusing to compromise or reach a resolution, Mummy will ask her favorite question: “If the two of you leave each other, do you think you will find somebody better?” That always seems to humble the couple with a swiftness that is audible in their shift of tone and voice. It seems that even if Uncle has other women they never compare to Aunty. And Aunty never seems interested in trying to find someone who doesn’t need to trial out other women before he comes to the conclusion that she is the one for him.

I don’t know when it happens but Big Sister stops joining me on these eavesdropping sessions. Then it is just me listening in on the sagas that play out in our second living room, trying to marry these stories I hear with the Aunties and Uncles I have known my entire life, see every Sunday at church and visit twice a year in their homes.

One evening when Daddy is away on a business trip, the three of us are interrupted whilst watching TV by incessant knocking on the front door. At the same time, Mummy’s phone goes off and when she sees the caller ID she winces. “Bimbo? Yes we are home. I’ll open the door for you now.”

Aunty Bimbo is the gossip of Northwest London. She knows every Nigerian family in the area and has zero qualms about sharing intimate details about their lives to anyone she talks to. She often turns up at our house to do exactly this, dishing about the family who had to remortgage their house because of the father’s gambling problem or the other family whose home is always filthy even though it is huge and has an expensive postcode.

However, tonight Aunty does not enter the house calling out blessings and diving into juicy gist. When Mummy goes to open the door, wailing fills the entire house, the cries of an animal just struck head on by a vehicle, distorting within seconds into violent blood-hungry screams.

“He will kill me! He will kill me!”

We hear Mummy begin to soothe Aunty Bimbo, telling her to calm down as she takes her into the second living room. I tiptoe to the door and listen as Aunty Bimbo tries to explain the root of her heartache. Every sentence is cut up by the sobs breaking out of her mouth, some high pitched, others a low animal-like growl. Over the course of fifteen minutes I come to understand that she found Uncle Folahan’s secret bank account. Charges to hotel rooms that go back years, and most recently rent charges for an apartment in Central London. This is the ultimate blow because Aunty has been begging Uncle to move, and the rent of his love den is two times the price of the rent for the house Uncle told Aunty they could not afford.

“He has killed me. He has killed me.”

The door of the second living room hasn’t been shut properly and it opens slightly now, allowing me to see Aunty Bimbo slumped in Mummy’s arms. Her hair is uncombed, mascara running — far from the perfectly dressed and groomed woman I am used to seeing.

“Bimbo,” Mummy says, her voice firm. “You will survive. You will forgive him and you will survive.”

“How?” Aunty Bimbo’s mouth quivers as she asks.

Mummy smooths Aunty’s hair out of her face. “The same way I did: through prayer and patience.”

Aunty Bimbo’s eyes widen in shock and a tired smile comes over Mummy’s face.

“My dear, you think you’re the only one?” Mummy laughs but the sound comes out flat and empty. “These men are not original.”

Aunty Bimbo turns away from Mummy and I wonder if that is a look of pity or shame on her face. The pulse in my head beats so fast I hear it in my ears. Clenching and unclenching my fists, I wait for Mummy to correct herself, because surely I have misunderstood, misheard. But all Mummy does is reach over and drink the glass of water on the table. Silent, she fills up the cup and hands it over to Aunty Bimbo who takes it without saying thank you, or even really looking at Mummy.

I go back to the other living room where Big Sister is finishing off an episode of Law and Order, recounting everything I just heard. A pit buries itself deep in my stomach when I see how Big Sister barely reacts, how she shrugs and rolls her eyes and says, “It’s standard.”

“What do you mean? So you knew?”

“Oh, babe,” she says and the pity in her voice stirs a longing in me to reach over and slap her across the face. Just to jolt her awake. Just to instill the same shock and anger and disgust that is now spreading its way through my gut.

“But … but when? Who was she?”

Big Sister laughs now, a harsh, tired sound. “Which time do you mean?”

I realize that I am not ready to hear what Big Sister has to tell me. So I walk away, going back to the door of the second living room.

Mummy has given Aunty a breast pump. Aunty must have run out of her house just before dinner. The mechanical sucking sound drifts out of the room, lingering on my skin. Aunty’s head stays hung low, her hand clutching her wrinkly breast to the mouth of the pump. Even as she weeps over this man, she remembers to milk for him.

Mummy is muttering under her breath, praying in tongues. Eventually Aunty Bimbo joins in. Their unintelligible prayers merge with the motored whines of the breast pump machine — sounds once soothing in their familiarity, now ominous and nauseating.

When Aunty Bimbo finally leaves, I go to Mummy who has started washing up in the kitchen and reach out to touch her arm.

“Mummy. I heard …” I pause, unsure of what to say. I had been eavesdropping after all. “Aunty Bimbo, will she be okay?”

Mummy’s soapy gloved hands still for a moment, before she places down the dishes in the sink and turns to look at me. Maybe she sees it in my eyes, all that I now know, the confusion and hurt, because I see her lips quiver, and a mix of sadness and exhaustion cover her face before she says, “My dear, your Aunty will be rewarded for her sacrifice.”

When Daddy comes home from his business trip, I try to look for something new in him. Or rather for something that I missed all along.

But Daddy is still Daddy. Singing ’80s funk songs out of tune early on Saturday mornings, waking us all up. Brushing his teeth so noisily that from rooms away we hear the bristles hitting his gums, the brutal sound as he hacks into the sink.

Nothing really changes.

Only now I notice when he is late for dinner. How Mummy checks her phone three or four times a minute, tapping her nails against the armchair of the sofa as she waits. And when he finally comes home and settles into Mummy’s lap, I notice the weary downturn of her mouth, the way she twists her neck slightly, side to side, as if trying to roll out the kinks without disturbing Daddy as he sucks away, his eyes bulging out like a frog’s.

Now I see that of course Daddy’s weight is heavy on her, that Mummy is tired through all of this, but she has trained her body and face to take it, to mask her pain.

Then, there’s the way Daddy climbs out of Mummy’s lap when he’s done, often flicking at Mummy’s nipple with a laugh, or reaching down to squeeze her bum a little too hard. As if his affection and gratitude can only be shown if it is accompanied with a touch of violence too.

Nothing really changes.

Only now when Daddy gets a phone call, and switches into Yoruba before leaving the room, I try to imagine who is on the other end, what type of women Daddy sneaks around with. In my head, they are polar opposites to Mummy. Red lipstick, bodycon dresses in neon colors, sleepy eyes, a cigarette in their hand or mouth, mole above their upper lip.

It feels good to channel my hatred and anger towards these imagined women. There is too much to project it all onto Daddy. And I am ashamed when I find it seeping out onto Mummy too.

It startles me. The disgust I feel towards Mummy, the loathing. I watch her prepare gizzard and plantain for Daddy to snack on after his feed, the way she puts his food in the special blue Le Creuset dish only he can use. But what once seemed so honorable now just makes me sick.

Five months later, Mummy and I are on our way to visit Aunty Bimbo who has just moved.

She got the house.

We pull up to the driveway. There’s a dark blue Jaguar in the front. Shiny, like it’s just been washed. “B1MB0” license plate.

My eyes widen as I take in the new car, the sprawling house, the large white pillars framing its doors. Hedges cut into spheres and pyramids and cubes. Aunty Bimbo comes floating out, her arms open wide to receive us. Her wrists jangle and I notice the Cartier bracelets adorned on them.

“Welcome. Welcome.” As I hug her, I am engulfed by the strong scent of her Arabian perfume. I am reminded that Aunty just came back from an impromptu trip to Dubai. Gifted by Uncle.

Aunty Bimbo ushers us in, giggling as we tell her how lovely the house is, how much we love the decor.

“Thank you, thank you. What can I say? We must give glory to God.”

Before we can take any more steps inside, Aunty holds out her hand.

“Sorry, please o. Take off your shoes.” She laughs again.

Mummy and I exchange a look.

In the living room, there is a huge sepia photograph of Aunty Bimbo and Uncle Folahan. It nearly takes up the whole height of the wall. The two of them are dressed in vintage ’20s outfits, Uncle in a tilted hat with a feather on top and suspenders, Aunty in a fringed flapper dress. He is standing behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist, kissing her neck weighted with pearl necklaces of varied lengths. She has a sheepish look on her face, her eyes slightly closed as if she is basking in the pleasure of his lips on her skin. The whole thing looks so staged, so phony, that I struggle to hold back a laugh.

Aunty catches me staring at it.

“We had a photoshoot a few months ago. With one of the top photographers. For our anniversary. Fifteen years soon.”

“Wow, my sister. God is good,” Mummy says and Aunty nods in agreement, smiling.

We sit down on the sofas as Aunty Bimbo’s new house girl brings us plantain crisps and fizzy drinks on a tray.

“And how is my brother?” Mummy asks.

“Ah. He’s good o, business is good. Keeping him very busy. We thank God.” Aunty’s eyes are jumpy. The smile plastered on her face beginning to look painful.

“I see he is taking good care of you,” Mummy says in a teasing tone, motioning to the Celine handbag perched on the sofa next to Aunty.

Aunty laughs a little too loud, fluttering her lashes.

“Of course now. Doesn’t he always?”

We all smile at each other. Before an awkward silence can settle in, Aunty starts chattering about her upcoming holiday to the South of France, how she needs some sun again, is getting tired of the London weather after only three weeks back. Mummy says something in response and then the two of them are laughing, a grating sound that fills the whole room. Aunty’s shoulders shaking, her body tilting back and forth, like if her performance of joy is convincing enough we will forget how her screams trembled through our house just months ago.

A girl is ushered into womanhood when she starts to bleed milk. The heaviness in her breasts, the pain of the liquid weighing down her chest, is meant to be carried with pride until she marries her husband and is relieved of that pain. This is what they teach us. That there is beauty in suffering. The meek shall inherit the earth.

Once we start to bleed, our parents are meant to announce it to the community and church. A pastor prays over us in front of the whole congregation, his hand clutching our head too tight as he asks God to preserve His daughter, to guide her to a husband who will be a good head of the home, prepare her to be a noble wife and wise mother. Then there is a party with food and loud music and presents from family and friends.

But I do not want this ceremony. I do not want the celebration.

I have just turned thirteen when it happens. Fresh out of the shower, I am rubbing coconut oil into my skin when I see trickles of milk running down my chest onto my stomach, mixing with the wet dampness of my skin. It is a moment I have waited for since childhood and yet it does not excite me as I once hoped it would. It fills me with dread.

So I decide to keep it a secret.

This is not easy because everyone knows it will happen any day now and they all seem to be waiting, eagerly. Mummy and Daddy ask me almost every day if I have seen my milk, their faces tense and anticipatory. But I shake my head and roll my eyes, saying “No, I would tell you.”

Sometimes Mummy gives me a funny look and I wonder if she knows that I am lying but she never pushes me to say more.

It becomes more and more difficult to hide though. My breasts grow larger and larger, tight against my school uniform shirt. Men look at me now, not with kind fatherly eyes like they used to, but with a hunger that makes my skin crawl.

Even Daddy makes me feel funny. Sometimes I catch him staring, the look on his face a mix of disturbance, awe and expectation. Then when he sees me seeing him, he smiles ruefully and lifts his eyes. “My princess is all grown up. Your milk will come through soon.”

The ache of the milk soon becomes unbearable. I have to wear pads in my bras now to soak up the leakage, often rushing to the bathroom at school or at home to change the padding, worried it has become too damp and the milk is about to leak through.

I am doing this at home one evening, tears in my eyes from the pain of touching my tender breasts when Big Sister barges in. I try to push her out but it is too late. She sees.

There is a silence as Big Sister takes me in, my wet breasts, my pajama shirt now stained with milk.

“You should have told me,” she half-whispers. I am surprised by the hurt in her voice.

Before I can say anything, she says, “Wait one second.” Then turns to leave.

Minutes later she is back. In her hand is a brand-new breast pump that I have never seen before. She takes it out of the box, removing the plastic protection and screwing the tubed bottle onto the pump.

“But I can’t use that. We’re meant to wait.”

“Wait for what?” She grimaces, boredom filling her eyes.

“Our husbands?” My voice comes out quiet and even I cringe at myself.

Big Sister acts as if she does not hear this and does not ask before she steps towards me and gently takes my right breast into her hand, placing it at the mouth of the clear pump. Then she starts to squeeze the handle. It feels strange — the soft air sucking at my nipple, the light breathy sound it makes. We both watch as the milk trickles down the pump into the bottle attached.

“What do you do with it?” I whisper. I cannot remember the last time I was this physically close to Big Sister.

“We should know what we taste like,” Big Sister says with a slight smile.

“You drink it?” My voice squeaks.

This is forbidden. Only married women can drink their own milk, and even then, they rarely do it in the open. Mummy has her breakfast after we leave for school, her dinner when we have gone up for bed.

“Aren’t you tired? Doesn’t it hurt?” Big Sister gives me a pointed look that forces me to nod, embarrassed. “And that’s what they want.”

Big Sister must see the confusion on my face because she lets out a small sigh.

“Knowing your taste gives you power. Now you know what you can demand for it.”

By now a quarter of the bottle is filled and she detaches it from the pump. Hands it over to me.

“But —”

Big Sister makes a tsk sound, shutting me up. “Drink.”

I hesitate. But only for a moment before I bring the bottle to my lips, fear and excitement pummeling through my chest.

The sweetness shocks me, how familiar it is, yet foreign.

As it glides down my throat, my tongue longs for more. I close my eyes, overwhelmed by the delicious taste of myself, that I am capable of producing something like this. Too quickly the milk is finished. I open my eyes to a knowing smile from Big Sister. For once, I don't mind her smugness.

Over the next few months I milk myself secretly. Double checking my room door is locked before I pump away. My lips watering as I anticipate the warm liquid filling my mouth.

I no longer need to feed from Mummy — I am mostly full from my own milk. But I continue to anyway. I tell myself it is because I don’t want her to get suspicious. But I also love that time with her.

Even so, I stop sitting on Mummy’s lap. I can’t bring myself to do that to her anymore. Now I just sit beside her or kneel in between her legs, my body bent or my head tilted at an awkward angle to reach her breast.

This amuses Mummy, my feeble attempts to lessen the weight she carries.

She always smiles, shaking her head at me. “Why are you stressing yourself?” Even then, she thinks of me first, worries about my discomfort before hers.

In those moments, I hate myself for judging her, for thinking her weak.

One afternoon, I come back from school and find Mummy sitting in Daddy’s study at the computer. None of us ever go inside here or use his computer.

“A man needs his privacy,” Daddy always says with a wink, before he closes the door of his study behind him.

I walk around his desk now and stand behind Mummy who is staring blankly at the screen. There is an email chain open, filled with pictures of a naked yellow skinned girl. I blink a few times, my brain taking a few moments longer than my eyes to fully register what I am seeing.

The girl's legs are spread open, revealing the pinkness of her. She is fiddling with her dark pointed nipples, but at an angle that still allows a good view of her full and firm breasts. Her head is slightly tilted back with a small smile on her lips.

I reach over to the mouse and scroll.

Mummy’s eyes are closed now. She is muttering under her breath. Speaking in tongues. This makes it difficult for me to fully concentrate but I force myself to read the messages.

They are filthy. In a way that is more embarrassing than shameful. Daddy speaks like the gross boys in school who brag about their poorly fabricated conquests. He uses words I have never heard come from his lips. Says things I could never even imagine being spoken aloud, not by anyone.

“Shut it down.” Mummy’s voice is loud and it startles me. I realize I have not even greeted her, that we have not spoken at all until now.

Still not looking at me, she pushes herself away from the desk, rising from the chair to walk out. She leaves so quickly I do not manage to tell her that her breasts are leaking. Two huge moon-shaped patches on her light blue shirt. A reminder that Daddy will be home soon. I look back at the computer. Enlarge the yellow girl’s picture. She is so skinny. So frail. I wonder if it hurts when Daddy rests himself against her body. Whether her back aches as he tries to suck her empty.

I try to picture it but I cannot or do not truly want to. So I shut the laptop and go to the kitchen where Mummy is bent over sweeping the floor with a broom, the smacking sound as it hits the granite much faster and harsher than usual, as if she is picturing Daddy on the floor. The wet patches on her chest are growing.

“What are you going to do?” I whisper.

Mummy does not look up. She continues hitting the broom against the floor. Smack. Smack. Smack.

“God will fight my battles for me,” she says.

“But those photos … that girl …”

Mummy starts to hit the floor even harder, making more noise. The dust is flying up everywhere, not gathering together in a small section on the floor like it should. I feel the particles tickle the insides of my nose.

It is clear that I should stop talking. But I do not want to. I think of Aunty Bimbo and of Big Sister and I do not want to stop talking.

“Who is she? And how could she send those pictures? It’s disgusting. Doesn’t she know he’s married?”

I hate how girlish my voice comes out. But more so I hate that I have said the wrong thing. That my mouth is not bold enough to carry the truth. To ask what I really want the answer to.

“I have also tried to bend my body for your father,” Mummy says. She has stopped sweeping now, her eyes focused on the floor. Suddenly, she drops the broom.

Then she is praying again, her muttering growing louder and louder. Her eyes shut now. As I watch her, I wonder if she is praying for help. Or if she is praying for restraint.

We do not speak of it again.

A few weeks later, me and Mummy come back from grocery shopping one evening and as we cruise into the driveway, we hear Daddy shouting. Rushing inside, we find Big Sister topless, Daddy grabbing her by her braids. Behind him is a pimple-faced lanky boy in a similar state of undress. His trouser zip is still open, revealing checkered blue boxers underneath. The boy looks vaguely familiar. It registers that he is in the same year as Big Sister at school, that they work together in the deli by the mall.

Daddy is seething. His eyes bulging like they do when he is having a feed. Only now they are filled with rage instead of their usual boyish contentment.

“Look at your daughter,” he shouts at Mummy. “Look at her.” Whenever we do something to disappoint Daddy we always become Mummy’s children.

Mummy stays silent, her eyes glazed over. This seems to infuriate Daddy even more.

“Ehn? Is this how you raised them? Did you not teach them?”

He scrunches Big Sister’s braids into his fists, pulling her towards him. But then as if suddenly changing his mind, he pushes her away so that she falls a little. Daddy’s words, seemingly referring to me as well, make me wonder just how much he knows. How he would react if he heard about what I have started doing with some of the girls in the changing rooms before P.E. How in our bras and knickers we kneel in front of each other and have a taste.

He storms out, slamming the front door behind him.

A quiet fills the air. The room smells like milk. Big Sister is crying but she is trying to be quiet about it.

Mummy turns to the boy. “I think you should go home. You parents will be wondering where you are.”

He stutters through something like a sorry and a thank you before he hurries out, still shirtless, not even trying to retrieve his clothes.

Mummy reaches out for Big Sister, helping her up from the floor, and wipes her tears. Big Sister keeps her head hung low, her eyes to the ground and I realize I have never seen her like this, without her shoulders pushed back and her eyes fiery, daring to be met.

This version of Big Sister must unsettle Mummy too because she takes her hand under Big Sister’s chin and pushes it up, forcing Big Sister to look her in the eye.

“Have you eaten?”

Big Sister is surprised by the question and shakes her head slowly. Then Mummy turns to me. I shake my head too, confused.

Mummy turns to leave and we hear her steps on the stairs. I take a blanket from the couch and wrap it around Big Sister’s shoulders. The two of us sit down, resting against each other. Big Sister’s fingers find their way to mine and we sit like that for a while, holding hands and saying nothing, only the sound of our breathing audible.

When Mummy comes back, she is juggling three breast pumps in her hand. She hands one out to Big Sister, another to me. It is only when I take it in my hand that I realize that this is my pump. The one I hid in a shoebox under my bed.

I am shocked. But at the same time I am not. I try to read Mummy, see if she is angry but she seems calm. She sits down next to me on the couch and Big Sister and I follow her lead as she brings out her breast and starts pumping her milk into the plastic teat and bottle. With my free hand, I switch on the TV, flicking it to the news, keeping the volume so low it is nearly muted. The headline on the news channel is talking about the Labour politician running for Prime Minister. They have found an old picture of her — in it she has her afro out, her eye makeup is a little too heavy. “DOES SHE HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?” is blasted across the bottom of the screen.

Only when we hear the front door open and close does Mummy stop pumping. We stop too. She waits until Daddy is at the door of the living room taking in the sight of us, before she separates the bottle from the pump. We follow suit.

He is screaming at us now, his voice a roar I am sure even the neighbors can hear. Yet none of us look at him. Not once as we twist the bottle apart from our pumps, bringing it to our lips. Tilting our heads back, we close our eyes to drink.


about the author